Why the Nook’s Books Could Trump the Kindle’s Sizzle

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World

Barnes & Noble’s new Nook tablet was announced today in New York to much fanfare.

ZDNet and Gizmodo (and other techie sites) breathlessly listed product features, comparing the Nook to its self-stated rival, the Kindle Fire. Publisher’s Lunch and Publisher’s Weekly offered much of the same, paying closer attention to the goodies that would be of most interest to the publishing community. The event was even live-blogged by technology review site, The Verge.

While more memory and marginal differences in screen quality could influence buyer behavior this holiday season, the future of the tablet and e-reader wars may not be about gigabytes and screen-specs; history suggests they will be about platform and apps.

In the mid-2000s, cell-phone buyers made agonizing choices between cameras of varying quality and service plans that competed on giving away more free text messages and talk time.

As smartphones have risen in popularity, consumers have increasingly made purchasing decisions based on software and platform, suggests a February 2011 report from Mintel, a London-based research firm. People don’t buy Motorola or Nokia anymore; they buy iOS or Android. As of this summer, about one-third of U.S. adults own a smartphone, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center.

According to an April 2011 study by Mintel, only 7% of survey respondents own a tablet. The study states that the market is still in an “early adopter” phase, meaning that only the most intrepid technology consumers have one.

Since the summer of 2007, when the iPhone was first launched, product specifications for smartphones have become more and more alike. When the iPhone hit the market, it was the only device that could do what it did. Other manufacturers scrambled to keep up. And while to many the iPhone remains the best smartphone on the market, undoubtedly, other handsets are comparable in most ways. What differentiates them now is their platform and the available apps.

Once tablets become more mainstream and their technological differences become less significant to the casual consumer, will they go the way of the cell phone?

It may be that soon the Nook’s most distinguishing feature in the not-too-distant future will be its app store and, yes, book selection.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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